The amount of superb soul records (from the obscure to the massive hits) that were waxed in Detroit is a near bottomless well of greatness. Following the lead of Berry Gordy’s Motown empire, dozens of young artists latched on to the label’s independent spirit, using their talents to write, record, arrange, produce and perform…all with the hopes of emulating Motown’s worldwide success.
Welcome to Detroit Soul, Part 1. This series is in no way chronological; it’s simply a celebration of this wonderful music that is far too unknown outside of the circles of fanaticism.
The Parliaments :: Heart Trouble (1965)
Beyond the fact that it’s an excellent song and production, The Parliaments’ “Heart Trouble” is a very important record for a number of reasons. Catchy as all get out, beautifully sang and performed, I firmly believe the record could have been a massive hit had Golden World Records been armed with the kind of promotional muscle to really push it.
Prior to George Clinton’s decision to revive the group in 1965, The Parliaments had cut a few sides in the 1950s only to languish in obscurity. With his fingers in the production, writing and performance pies, Clinton was one of the major players on the outside-of-Motown Detroit talent pool throughout the mid to late sixties. His fingerprints were everywhere. George later reworked this song into “You Can’t Miss What You Can’t Measure”; a key track from Funkadelic’s 1973 LP, Cosmic Slop.
Steve Mancha :: Friday Night (1967)
Born Clyde Wilson (he wrote a few tunes for Motown under his real name, including the amazing “Number One In Your Heart”, as performed by the Monitors), producer Don Davis suggested that the name Steve Mancha would be more commercially viable. “Steve Mancha” went on to become a Detroit soul legend, even though his records never became national hits.
“Friday Night” captures the ‘pistol’ sound that is a trademark of so many Detroit soul records; namely, the rhythm sounds like an auto assembly line in the midst of production. With super soulful vocals, and the record has a hypnotic arrangement thanks to the low drone of the baritone sax.
Dee Edwards :: You Say You Love Me (1964)
This track shows that there was far more to Detroit soul than the sound of firing pistons; this is a city responsible for plenty of gorgeous ballads and mid-tempo groovers. I especially love the prominence of the Hammond organ, here, and the pitch control that Dee Edwards uses when she glides into the perfect note. It has a great, smooth, Mary Wells/ Barbara Lewis sound. Dee Edwards had a long career in music which culminated in a big disco hit with “Strangers On The Shore” in 1979. She passed away too young (age 60) in 2006.
Cynthia & The Imaginations :: There’s Something The Matter (With Your Heart) (1968)
This Detroit group released two singles, and both have the type of gorgeous, dream quality that we hear, here. Cynthia is Cynthia Girty, who later went on to work with P-Funk in the 1970′s, Maceo Parker, and David Ruffin.
Previously: Chicago Soul, Part One / Chicago Blues Finds Its Soul / The Soul Of NOLA, Part 1
(Derek See is a Bay area based musician who plays guitar with The Bang Girl Group Revue, Joel Gion & Primary Colours, and occasionally makes records on his own with The Gentle Cycle.)